Screen Dance as Rite of Passage (c) Dr Lila Moore

The Dancing Veil

I was lying on the treatment bed waiting for the acupuncture needles to take effect on my distressed body and mind. The acupuncturist, a highly praised though modest practitioner of alternative medicine, and I, were in the unknown. He could not promise me miracles. It was an experiment. The treatment may work, or I may need to return to a lifetime of dependence on synthetic medicine. There was nothing to lose. I surrendered and my consciousness was drifting, rising and hovering above my body. Then on that invisible cloud of consciousness appeared a shape, it was neither a person nor an animal. It seemed like a red veil, dancing and circling above me, as if the dancer disappeared leaving the veil that she was wrapped in to dance without her. The session ended, and I forgot all about my epiphany.

Spontaneous Healing

That night, my healing began. The physical symptoms disappeared from my body almost right away and sometime later a medical examination proved that my metabolism returned to normal. However, my story of the dancing veil that manifested prior to the healing remained obscure. In my awareness there seemed to be a mysterious link between my spontaneous healing and recovery and the image (for a lack of a better word) that manifested. The manifestation had substance. It was not just an image but an entity moving in space. I still can’t describe the substance from which the entity was composed, it was otherworldly. Today I would describe it as an imaginal entity that broke through the divide that separates the imaginal and the physical worlds and manifested before me for the purpose of healing. My physical body and my subtle body were realigned through the mediation of a dancing entity and by joining a dance that can transcend, transform and heal.

Seeking for a New Art Form

The healing occurred when I was at the very start of my MA film studies at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design in London. During that time, I discovered the films and writings of Maya Deren. Deren’s work had a profound impact on my life and paved the way to MPhil and PhD research that explored, amongst other topics, ritualistic and mythical dance films made especially for the camera and the screen. For almost a decade whilst I was studying and experimenting with film, video, dance and performance, I was also seeking for an art form and aesthetic medium that could replicate the encounter with the dancing veil.

I was unable to share such spiritual impressions or visions with my academic supervisors, and other filmmakers were reluctant to discuss the inner processes involved in the making of their artworks. In principle, I was not concerned with whether people believed my epiphany and healing experience or not, it was beside the point, as I had difficulties grasping it as well as an actual phenomenon. My interest was in the aesthetics of the epiphany and in art forms that could generate similar epiphanies with potentially healing and transformative effects on viewers.

Practice Based PhD

In my PhD thesis I demonstrated that the hybrid art form that brings together dance, performance, film, video and other screen-based mediums can depict the often invisible, imaginal domains of personal and often secular or spiritual rituals and mythic journeys. Moreover, this screen-based art form, currently known as Screen Dance, can depict and express themes and experiences through aesthetic modes that are unavailable in art forms that rely solely on terrestrial time and space. These thematic and aesthetic ideas are exemplified and demonstrated in the analysis of the visual text of the film.
The term Screen Dance did not exist in 2001 and certainly not before the 21st century. When I was doing my PhD research, the art form was still in the process of being defined by film artists and choreographers, scholars, film producers and critics. Films that depicted choreography that could exist only on screen and could not be performed ‘live’ were officially termed in festivals and screenings as Screen Choreography.

Thus, in my PhD thesis I used the term Screen Choreography to describe my film Gaia – Mysterious Rhythms (short title: Gaia) and other films that I selected to analyse. My research was the first practice-based PhD in Dance on Screen in the UK and worldwide. Having to make a film as part of the research turned the research itself into an integral part of my lived experience and into a personal rite of passage. Working with dancers and performers on movement themes brought me closer to the core of the experiences and visions that I was aspiring to depict on screen. Looking for locations to film took me to different seashores on different continents. It led to somatic interactions, from sensing the sea tides in my body and psyche to syncing with the sun and moon rhythms and the flow of time, light and darkness.

Mysterious Rhythms

Although I was a recipient of a grant, my budget was limited, and I struggled with many limitations, which found their way to the non-verbal narrative of my film script. The rite of passage that I was depicting thus mirrored my terrestrial limitations and the desire to break free and become who my soul longed to manifest. I needed not only practical assistance but moral and spiritual help as well.

One day I stumbled across an old copy of the novel The Sea Priestess by the occultist Dion Fortune at the Atlantis bookshop near the British Museum. Intriguingly, the narrative resonated deeply with the images and themes of my film script. Reading passages from The Sea Priestess fuelled my film project and guided me in mysterious ways through synchronicities and chance meetings to find solutions and make the film despite the odds. I therefore detail in the analysis not only the film and the choreographic form but also its making as a rite of passage. A creative process through which a young woman transforms by becoming aware of her innate powers and potentials through deep contacts with the imaginal and natural realms.

Although the protagonist is a fictitious and archetypal character, she reflects my own experience of a rite of passage. As I explain in the film analysis by referring to Andrei Tarkovsky, the film-maker can be found in her unique sense of time and rhythm. I called those rhythms mysterious as in this film the terrain of natural elements mirrors archetypal shapes, symbols, and dancing patterns from the dawn of civilization and the depths of human consciousness. As in the scene of the Three Reflections in Gaia, I only touched the translucent and shimmering surface of a great mystery.

An Artist’s Monograph

I completed my practice-based PhD research in Dance on Screen in the Spring of 2001 at Middlesex University in London. Twenty-two years passed since then, however, many ideas discussed in my initial thesis have remained relevant. Recent global events, especially climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as technological progress in screen-based technologies, have revived the main topics of my research which have become increasingly urgent. I have therefore returned to this work with a renewed sense of purpose and vocation.

My artist’s monograph Screen Dance as Rite of Passage is based on my PhD thesis entitled Dance on Screen (Middlesex University, 2001). My thesis claims dance on screen as a hybrid art form with unique screen-based aesthetics. In this monograph, I demonstrate via detailed study, the capacity of screen dance to function as a ritualistic art form. The text explains how screen dance can reveal the imaginal realms of the psyche and seeks to holistically bridge and heal the split between the body and the psyche as well as the divide between the body, psyche, nature and the artificial, technological world. The analysis of Screen Dance as Rite of Passage is based on the film Gaia – Mysterious Rhythms, which I made as part of the practice-based PhD.

Gaia – Mysterious Rhythms is a screendance-ritual performed by a young woman on the seashore. The dance unfolds a rite of passage and a process of transformation through the woman’s interaction with the elements of the natural environment: the rhythms and features of the earth, sea, moon and sun. In formal terms, Gaia was set out to explore the notion of screen choreography/screendance through a subtle, poetic and reflective interplay of images of the body and the environment. In terms of content, the woman’s performance is perceived as a source of metaphoric and archetypal imagery that highlights the intricate relationship between body, psyche, and the world.

Gaia illustrates processes of transformation, Self-integration and empowerment relating to female and feminine identity. Moreover, it provides an analysis of spiritual, noetic and imaginal realms, including ancient symbols and archetypal symbolic forms, through the non-verbal visual poetry and fusion of dance and film.

The above excerpts derive from: Moore, Lila.  (2023). Screen Dance as Rite of Passage: An Artist’s Monograph – Gaia Mysterious Rhythms. Cybernetic Scribe. Kindle Edition.

The monograph is freely available to Amazon Unlimited members, and in Amazon kindle books to the general public.

 

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